THE MUPPET MOVIE - Jenifer and Roth's Tysons Corner.
It is possible to be unenchanted by the Muppets. Rare, but possible. "The Muppet Movie" may increase to two, or even more, the number of people who have escaped the television puppet's spell.
Maybe it's the sight of all those open redfelt mouths flapping across a wide movie screen. Or all those eager live actors bending down to share the aura of Muppetmaster Jim Henson's success.
No. those could be justified by the cute wisecracks, and the clever use of modern costumes and voices on stuffed animals. There's nothing wrong with puppetry.
It's the celebrity-crazed attitudes of these characters, who attempt to satirize, but end up glorifying, the era's egotism. It is the film plot in which "the end of the rainbow," "The Dream," as it is designated, is "to be rich and famous," and the ethical dilemma is whether Kermit the Frog will get to Hollywood to be a movie star, or whether he will be waylaid into doing commercials.
Now there is a moral conflict for our children and our times.
Muppet admirers will argue that this is missing the point; that the purpose is actually to spoof this attitude.
"The Muppet Movieis a movie about making a movie about Muppets making a movie. It opens in a screening room, where "The Muppet Movie" is being shown. As the movie-within-a-movie advances, the characters in it get out the script of "The Muppet Movie" and read it aloud. They ask themselves what they would do if this were a movie, and then they do famous bits from other movies. The villain is based on a famous commercial.
The theme is: How did the Muppet come to make a movie? there is no need to show any winning traits that may have first endeared the characters to their audience, let alone to show them doing anything. We are to be interested in them because they are famous, and therefore to be curious about the-scene-behind-the-scene, etc., because it purports to show they became famous.
The puppets are used in a photographed setting, interacting with live actors. Milton Berle sells them a used car. Richard Pryor sells them balloons. Bob Hope sells them ice cream. Steve Martin sells them wine. James Coburn threatens them. Mel Brooks threatens them. Elliott Gould makes Miss Piggy a beauty contest winner. Orson Welles makes Kermit the Frog a movie star. Edgar Bergen looks at Charlie McCarthy. Charlie McCarthy looks at Edgar Bergen.
These are not terrific parts for famous actors, nor do the actors much attempt to display the ablilities for which they became famous, although Brooks does seem to wear himself out doing the old Nazi doctor routine. The point is that the the movie is populated, if fleetingly, with famous people.
"Keep believing, keep pretending," says the final chorus, as the Muppets reenact the movie about the movie they have just been acting about how they came to be so famous as to be in a movie about being famous. Now there is something to believe in. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, KERMIT THE FROG, UP (ABOVE) AND DOWN (BELOW) IN "THE MUPPET MOVIE."